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Govt fumes over third SADC security mission

by Lesotho Times
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. . . accuses bloc’s defence chiefs of overruling Double Troika decision

Ngoni Muzofa

PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane’s government is demanding answers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after the bloc’s defence chiefs decided to dispatch a third security assessment mission to Lesotho on 18 October 2017 despite the regional body’s earlier commitment to deploy a 1 200-strong standby force by 1 November 2017.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Lesego Makgothi, is today expected to meet SADC Executive Secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, in Gaborone, Botswana, to get an explanation on the latest decision by the regional body’s Defence Sub Committee and voice Lesotho’s strong indignation over it.  The Defence Sub Committee comprises of army commanders from all of SADC’s 14 member states.

Mr Makgothi told the Lesotho Times en route to Botswana yesterday that the government wanted to know how the Defence Sub Committee could “overrule” a decision of the SADC Double Troika Summit to deploy a contingent or standby force to Lesotho. He said the subcommittee was only supposed to have discussed and decided the contingent force’s size, tenure and scope and never to make a new decision about deploying another assessment mission.

The Defence Sub Committee met last Friday in Luanda, Angola to deliberate on the findings of a 40-member SADC technical assessment team that was in Lesotho between 24 and 28 September 2017.

The technical assessment team had been dispatched by a 15 September SADC Double Troika Summit to assess the security situation in Lesotho after the 5 September 2017 assassination of Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) commander, Lieutenant-General Khoantle Motšomotšo by his subordinates Brigadier Bulane Sechele and Colonel Tefo Hashatsi.

Brig Sechele and Col Hashatsi were gunned down by Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s bodyguards in the aftermath of the assassination, while a third suspect, Captain Boiketsiso Fonane, is in military detention.

The summit also approved Lesotho’s request for a standby force consisting of military, security, intelligence and civilian experts to assist the LDF in managing the security crisis in the country in the aftermath of the assassination and during the implementation of security sector reforms recommended by the regional body. According to Mr Makgothi, the standby  force woulkd consist of 1 099 troops, 30 civilians, 34 police officers, one pathologist, four scuba divers and a police mobile unit.

The technical assessment team held consultative meetings with the government, representatives of opposition political parties and other non-state actors such as the Christian Council of Lesotho and the Lesotho Council of NGOs.

The mission was comprised of senior military, police and state security and civilian officers from Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and the SADC Secretariat. Botswana participated in the mission in the country’s capacity as chair of the Defence Intelligence Standing Committee.

At the end of the mission, the team prepared a detailed report with recommendations on the requirements and modalities for the deployment of the standby force. The defence and security chiefs were then only supposed to determine the size, tenure and scope of the contingent force before its deployment to the Mountain Kingdom, according to a statement issued by SADC after the visit.

SADC had also dispatched a Ministerial Double Troika fact-finding mission to Lesotho soon after Lt-Gen Motšomotšo’s assassination on 7 September led by then Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister, Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti. The fact-finding mission submitted its findings to the bloc’s chairperson and South African President Jacob Zuma ahead of the 15 September summit.

Mr Makgothi said the government was now “baffled” after being notified by SADC that a third mission was coming to Lesotho on 18 October 2017.

“I am on my way to Botswana to find out from the SADC Executive Secretary (Dr Tax) what prompted this third team,” he said, while waiting for a flight to Gaborone at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg.

“From there (Botswana), I intend to fly to Angola to have a meeting with the new Foreign Affairs minister of that country since a new one was appointed after last month’s elections.”

Mr Makgothi said the government also wanted to know who had exactly sanctioned the deployment of a third mission to Lesotho.

“The deployment of the technical assessment mission had been sanctioned by the SADC Double Troika. So far, we don’t know who has given this third mission the green light to come to Lesotho. We need to know who has the power to overrule the SADC Double Troika’s decision,” he said.

Asked if the deployment of the third mission was likely to delay the 1 November arrival of the standby force, the minister said: “The planned arrival of the standby force is 1 November and as far as all SADC member states are concerned, that remains the case. The agreement has been signed by the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and I have taken it with me to Botswana where the SADC Executive Secretary (Dr Tax) will sign on the dotted line as well.

“Whoever has the power to overrule a SADC Double Troika decision should be coming from heaven. No subcommittee can overrule a decision made by the Double Troika. The Defence Sub Committee has made a mockery of the Double Troika’s decisions.”

He added: As far as I am concerned, that team is not going to enter the country. We are not interested in that team.”

Well-placed sources told this publication the Defence Sub Committee could have been influenced by some officials in Lesotho’s security sector who were of the view that there was no need for a contingent force.

“Those sentiments by some of the securocrats could have swayed the Defence Sub Committee into sending another assessment team,” the sources said.

However, LDF acting commander, Major-General Lineo Poopa, last month said army members should not worry about the presence of SADC forces because they were going to act as a watchdog, without taking over from the LDF.

Defence and National Security Ministry Principal Secretary, Retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, yesterday confirmed seeing the correspondence from SADC on the third assessment mission. However, he did not know the number of people in the mission.

Commenting on the development, political analyst Mafa Sejanamane said a delay in the deployment of the standby force would disrupt the implementation of multi-sectoral reforms which encompass the military.

The envisaged reforms cover governance, security sector and other areas and are aimed at deepening democracy and creating last stability which is conducive to economic growth.

The standby force is also meant to provide security in the event of resistance by some LDF members implicated in various serious crimes that various cases of murder.  It had been hoped that the SADC standby force would act as a viable deterrent against any Lesotho soldiers who may want to resist being called upon to answer for atrocities they committed in the past. A SADC commission of inquiry into Lesotho’s perennial instability had recommended that all soldiers involved in committing atrocities be held liable for their actions. Indeed Lt-Gen Motšomotšo was killed by his two subordinates unhappy that they were now being turned over to the police to answer for their alleged crimes.

“It would be a travesty of justice if the contingent force were to be delayed. It would take us backwards,” Professor Sejanamane told the Lesotho Times yesterday.

“Some of the people in the LDF command have been implicated in various crimes which SADC has said should be dealt with. So, they cannot be expected to police themselves, just like they were unable to protect Lt-Gen Motšomotšo.”

The contingent force’s role, Prof Sejanamane said, is twofold: “It would ensure that there is no resistance or any rebellion within the LDF. Secondly, it would ensure that the implementation of SADC decisions is done within the rule of law by ensuring that all the people being arrested for various crimes are handled within the bounds of human rights and justice.”

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